Administratively, I'm doing two different things here. One of the builds (Uberflank) uses the new format. The other (Flip the Bird) uses the old format. Both employ a spacing change fix, but I'm not sure which format is more useful to you as a reader. (Old format has level-by-level commentary interspaced with the build, new one has the build presented in a single place with attached commentary). Let me know which one you prefer and we'll use that on future builds.
Before I start, I'd like to say that it's pure coincidence that we have two Kenku builds this week. They'd make wonderful partners, though - hilariously so, in fact. Go ahead and read the MM3's section on Kenku in Eberron; we discovered how perfectly that fit these builds after we wrote them.
As usual for the showcase, these builds are intended to spur discussion and perhaps inspire a few people in the spirit of the old CO boards. They come from members of my gaming group - me, Radical Taoist, DisposableHero_, Andarious, Sionnis, and Seishi - and I'll always identify who wrote the build at the start, so do not assume I'm the guy behind all of them (because I'm not!).
Unless otherwise noted, showcase builds use 28 point-buy, and have their snapshots evaluated using fractional base attack / saves (because it simplifies the math). None of them actually rely on fractional to be built, though. The format I use showcases their progression at key levels rather than just presenting the build and showing off a few tricks at level 20; most of these are capable of being played 1-20 if you so choose.
With that out of the way, let's get started. This week, the first of mine in a long while – although I couldn’t have done this without RT to help get me back in the swing of things.
FLIP THE BIRD
Everyday I’m shuffling
Required Books: Tome of Battle, Monster Manual 3, Complete Adventurer, Complete Scoundrel, Complete Champion, Races of the Wild, Spell Compendium. (Plenty of optional variants – Cityscape and Dungeonscape – are recommended but not needed)
Unearthed Arcana used: None!
Background: You’ve seen the Heavy Weapons Elf. While we were setting the writeup for that, I happened on the idea of using Evasive Reflexes – a feat that I’ve always found intriguing but never seen put to much use – with AoO generation methods on a character who relies on distance attacks. The basic idea is Defensive Rebuke (which, as the Heavy showed, is usable with ranged weapons): shoot the enemy team from a range from which they can’t retaliate, and each attack they make gives you a 5’ step. The rest of the build just sort of… happened when I was bouncing this idea past RT (although Andarious pointed out a very nice modification to the endgame). It is, in a sense, the bastard lovechild of the Heavy Weapons Elf and the Gnowhere Gnome, with touches of the Evasion Tank on the side.
The name comes from the race choice, as well as the general nature of how you’d play – combining ridiculous evasive techniques (which trigger off of enemy action) with ranged-weapon harrier effects basically adds injury to prodigious insult. A few of the variants were picked expressly for you to make sure that your taunting gestures cross the language barrier.
For bonus points, dress as an 80s rapper, party rocker, or any other crime against fashion while doing this. I dare you to imagine a bird-man in zebra-print parachute pants extending an expressive, feathery middle digit while he sidesteps your attacks with ease.
- Race: Kenku (MM3) is by far the best choice for this build. They’re Medium (helps with melee defense, oddly enough), possess natural claw attacks (so you threaten while holding a ranged weapon), and pack a Dex bonus without a Con penalty; the stealth bonuses are much-appreciated gravy. Oddly, Great Ally isn't a huge selling point for you (as you rarely benefit from flanking), but you do have it. There’s a couple uses for Mimicry here, even though this isn’t a build intended to max out that effect. (If you can’t use kenku, the dynamic changes a bit. Strongheart Halfling is my preferred fallback position – the Small size actually works against you defensively and you’ll need to use an Elvencraft bow, and the easier feat burden really speeds the build up, and the low speed, oddly, is not a drawback here.) If none of those work, Human is tried and proven.
- Ability Scores: 12/16/12/12/10/12, before racial modifiers (-2 Str, +2 Dex). You’re a total Dexterity bird, so pump and tome that like there’s no tomorrow. Constitution gets second priority. You don’t need Strength at all, but avoid penalties.
- Alignment: It’s vestigial at this point, but you’re a crusader under all of this, so you can’t be true neutral. Any other alignment works.
Skill Notes: This depends a bit on which variants you use. We found great results by employing Cityscape and Dungeonscape: exchanging Survival for Sense Motive, Ride for Tumble, Handle Animal for Gather Information, and – most importantly – the ranger’s tracking ability for Disable Device turned out to produce impressive results. However, this produces a dungeon specialist character (which we describe below). Without these variants, the skills get harder to work with, but you get a good set of wilderness class skills. It’s a bit of a tradeoff, largely on how effective you are as a trapscout, so choose based on likely environments and trap rates and go with that.
Basic Equipment: A regular ol’ shortbow or longbow does the trick – I prefer shortbow, since you’ll hardly ever need the longbow’s extended range and the smaller size works well in a dungeon, but you make an incredible sniper if you stick to the bigger bow. You won’t need composite bows (Strength 10), and you won’t need much armor (Dex 18 and it only gets better).
Magical Gear Goals: Beyond absolutely maxing out your Dexterity? Any decent bow is a good place to start (flat enhancement bonus is fine); the Raptor Arrows from the MIC can help save a lot on final costs here. The Fleet Warrior’s set (specifically, the sandals and the vest) are absolute godsends to this build. Similarly, you’ll get great mileage out of a Ring of Wizardry I and anything to improve your saving throws (Ring of Evasion, Crystal Mask of Mindarmor, etc.). You also want to get the cheap Demolition and Truedeath weapon crystals – they free up your favored enemy choices. Generally speaking, you don’t actually need speed boosts or much investment in AC, but they don’t hurt.
…Wow, that’s eclectic. You look at that list and you can’t quite tell who you’re buying for. Archer, Scout, Arcane, Rogue, Tank… yep, touched most of the bases right there. And it’s only because Martial Spirit doesn’t work with ranged attacks that we left out “martial adept” and “healer”. Trust me, it’s more streamlined than it seems.
Build Stub: Scout 4 / Ranger 11 / Crusader 3 / Sorcerer 2.
Note: If the feat timing looks weird, it’s because we’re using the spell-less ranger in Complete Champion – no spells, but each time a spell level is unlocked you get a bonus feat from a list that depends on your combat style. (They don’t skip prereqs like Combat Style, though.)
1 – Scout 1 – (Skirmish, Trapfinding)(Combat Reflexes)
2 – Scout 2 – (Battle Fortitude +1, Uncanny Dodge)
3 – Ranger 1 – (Favored Enemy, Voice of the City) (Evasive Reflexes)
Speaking of the venerable rapper, Evasive is online. Oh, how I’ve grown to love this feat, since it completely inverts how you look at the AoO. At the moment you’re largely lacking in infrastructure to trigger it easily, but it’s best to have it online earlier. (If you want you can switch it with Point Blank Shot.) I’ll go into more detail about this feat as the respective components come online.
4 – Scout 3 – (Dungeon Specialist, Go to Ground)
Go to Ground is a Cityscape replacement, done for style. It replaces Trackless Step (something you can more or less outdo with the right equipment, should it matter) with the ability to hide from Urban Tracking (which is something much, much harder to do). It’s an optional swap, so ditch it if you don’t like it.
5 – Scout 4 – (Woodland Stride) (Swift Hunter)
6 – Ranger 2 – (Archery Style) (Rapid Shot, Point Blank Shot)
7 – Ranger 3 –
8 – Ranger 4 – (Distracting Attack) (Precise Shot)
9 – Crusader 1 – (Steely Resolve 5, Furious Counterstrike) (Extra Granted Maneuver) (Defensive Rebuke, Shield Block, Tactical Strike, Mountain Hammer, White Raven Tactics, Bolstering Voice)
As was illustrated with the Heavy Weapons Elf, several martial maneuvers (typically boosts or stances) are fully usable with ranged weapons.You have two here which are not – Tactical Strike (it’s a thematic match to your movement-out-of-turn theme, but you’ll rarely use it) and Mountain Hammer (used entirely as out-of-combat support, everyone’s favorite Swiss Army Chainsaw is your final fallback if you just can’t pick that annoying lock).
Your swift/immediates include White Raven Tactics, which I’ll largely skip discussing since it’s used conventionally here (of note is your ridiculous Initiative check). Shield Block gives you some cover against particularly annoying melee defense, such as teleporters – strangely, Shield Block can target yourself and doesn’t require a shield to use (unlike its big brother, Shield Counter). Your stance choices are pretty meager and likely to see use only out of battle; of the crusader stances, Bolstering Voice is the only one that appeals at all (and it provides a vital White Raven prerequisite). Sadly, Martial Spirit won’t work with ranged attacks, or else it’d totally be your choice (and your maneuvers would swap Tactical Strike for Douse the Flames).
The signature boost is Defensive Rebuke, and it’s the repeated use of this boost that motivated the Extra Granted Maneuver feat (spam it every 3 rounds instead of every 4, maneuver-granting permitting). You’re usually out of reach when you use it, and you can easily peg the entire enemy team with it (focus on the warriors). Chances are you’re out of their reach, with your own frontline in their face, so they’re forced to attack your allies.
Here’s where your Evasive Reflexes feat comes in. Normally, Defensive Rebuke and other AoO generators are used to encourage your foes to fight you instead of your allies. Here, it’s flipped around: They’re usually only able to attack your allies, so you reap a benefit. In this case, each time your enemies attack your allies, you get a 5’ step. Not only does this give you near-perfect position control (as pretty much only Thicket outright foils a 5’ step; you’ve got Woodland Stride and likely the Sandals of Light Stepping at the moment, so terrain isn’t a factor), it also makes you deadlier. Go ahead and carefully read Skirmish again – once you move, the bonuses activate and remain active for one round (although the bonus damage only applies on your turn). If you’re able to make two 5’ steps out of turn (thank you, Combat Reflexes), Skirmish activates, boosting your AC, and when your turn comes, you can full attack normally.
How’s that for a twist? Instead of looking to generate extra movement on your turn, you simply generate it out of turn, and use normal full attacks to benefit from Skirmish. Totally unconventional way of working with the scout.
10 – Crusader 2– (Indomitable Soul) (Thicket of Blades)
11 – Crusader 3 – (Zealous Surge) (Covering Strike)
12 – Sorcerer 1 – (Summon Familiar) (Improved Skirmish) (Enlarge Person, Sniper’s Shot)
Enlarge Person plus kenku claws (or an elvencraft bow) gives you reach in tight quarters, which combines well with Thicket – but not to tie down the enemy. Rather, it buys you an easy escape from any enemy approach, including charges (you just step out of the way) and 5’ steps. You can nimbly cross a tight battlefield unscathed this way, despite being a hulking 8’ tall bird-colossus.
Sniper Shot is used in the opposite scenario – when you’re being carried far away on the wings of Defensive Rebuke + Elusive Reflexes, you will probably push yourself outside of Skirmish range. Not any more – this spell lets you make sneak attacks outside the 30’ range for a round. It doesn’t explicitly mention Skirmish (or sudden strike, or insightful strike, or favored enemy, or…), but precision effects are usually perfectly transferrable anyway, so you won’t have a hard case to make.
Your choice of familiar is up to you, as are your cantrips. I don’t think you should replace the familiar with anything, mind – your base attack is very good, you’ve got great skills, and decent saves, and you can use the extra pair of eyes (note that while kenku get low-light vision, both preferred variant races lack enhanced vision, and all race choices here lack alternate sense modes).
13 – Sorcerer 2 – (Any 1st level spell)
We go for another sorc level for the extra spell versatility and the base attack increase, plus the spell slot doesn’t hurt. It also gives you more skill points (a few at least) to put into Bluff, as this is the only class you have with Bluff as a class skill. This is the most transferrable level of the build.
14 – Ranger 5 –
15 – Ranger 6 – (Improved Archery) (Manyshot, Martial Stance) (Press the Advantage)
If your DM blocks this from working (the only argument for this from the rules is that Press the Advantage uses a colloquial “for the round” in it which doesn’t consider the corner case of Evasive Reflexes), you have a ready alternative: you qualify for Robilar’s Gambit. Skirmish covers for the AC penalty, and while normally you would use this feat to kill the enemy faster, here you use it the way the Evasion Tank does. Anyone who attacks you, hit or miss, in melee or at range, gives you a 5’ step. It won’t foil the first attack, since Robilar’s AoO resolves late, but it shuts down melee full attacks hard and lets you run for cover from distance attacks.
16 – Ranger 7 – (Crowd Walker)
17 – Ranger 8 – (Improved Rapid Shot)
18 – Ranger 9 – (Spell Reflection) (Woodland Archer)
I’ve written about Woodland Archer in the past (see the Heavy Weapons Elf), but here the use is more technical. You rely less on Adjust for Range than the Heavy (lacking Mongoose maneuvers or Time Stands Still), but you get better mileage out of Pierce the Foliage, largely due to the See the Unseen skill trick you qualify for, but the Heavy didn’t. (This pairing lets you detect stealthers with ease and bypass their concealment for as long as you keep pegging them). Finally, with respectable stealth skills, you probably can make Moving Sniper see some use – which is a good thing, since I doubt you’d be 5’ stepping your way through snipe scenarios. Sadly sniping takes place in exactly the wrong order for your skirmish ability, but there’s times when it will matter.
19 – Ranger 10
20 – Ranger 11 – (Archery Mastery) (Improved Precise Shot, Blind-Fight)
Snapshot: Take the +6 on Con and Dexterity, +5 Dex tome, Greater Magic Weapon, and no other gear – this is actually slightly more conservative than our standard fare for snapshotting, since we only hit two ability scores. (If you get a third, it’s Charisma, which gives extra spell slots and Will saves, but is somewhat inefficient at either role.) With this, Flip the Bird finishes with 172 hit points, saves of 16/24/9, and a base attack of +18 (ranged +35, with Improved Rapid Shot and Woodland Archer aiding on iterative attacks). You also pack five favored enemies (against whom you bypass fortification – thank you, Swift Hunter) and Skirmish +4d6/+4 (or +6d6/+6 if you move 20’, thank you Improved Skirmish); remember that both skirmish and favored enemy damage applies to each of your five-ish arrows per turn. Your caster level is irrelevant, but you can cast five first-level spells per day by default, which can aid you in escaping dogpiles or in delivering pain at a distance (it removes the range limit on precision damage, so go ahead and have your cake and eat it too with an Evasive Skirmish).
More to the point, you finish with a +12 Dexterity modifier, Combat Reflexes, Evasive Reflexes, and Press the Advantage, along with a few ways of playing with AoOs. Your combat rounds are usually spent with Defensive Rebuke or Covering Strike and a full attack, or casting a buff or employing White Raven Tactics. (If you’re in close quarters, that buff could be Enlarge Person and you use Thicket of Blades; if you’re at a distance you remain in Press the Advantage and use Sniper’s Shot if you’re outside of 30’).
In practical terms, this means that you can peg the entire enemy line with arrows that provide Great Ally flanking bonuses to your team. These arrows can either shut down enemy AoO abilities for three whole rounds or can give you prodigious movement and evasion: if the enemy retaliates, you can actually 5’ step over 130 feet on the enemy turn, including over difficult terrain. Yes, you can actually shuffle more distance than many fully-equipped characters can run. Skirmish bonuses last for 1 round after the movement that triggered them, so any time the enemy provokes an AoO from you, they’re giving you serious skirmish bonuses on your AC and next round’s full attacks. If they dogpile you in melee, switching to Thicket with reach gives you the exact opposite of its usual effect of locking down the enemy: you get an escape route, as any form of movement in that area gives you two 5’ steps to escape them. (Remember the Evasion Tank? Attacks aimed at the wrong square flat-out miss. You can even reflect targeted spells in the late-game.)
In addition to the above, your skills work out well: with the variants discussed above, the dungeon-crawler configuration works out with the following configuration, without spending a single cross-class skill point.
- Sense Motive 12 (+12, Favored Enemy)
- Search 23 (+24, Trapfinding)
- Hide 11 (+25)
- Move Silently 11 (+25)
- Disable Device 23 (+24, Trapfinding)
- Listen 23 (+23, Favored Enemy, Listen to This, Mimicry)
- Spot 23 (+23, Favored Enemy, See the Unseen)
- Bluff 6 (+7, Favored Enemy, Mimicry)
- Tumble 10 (+22)
- Gather Information 9 (+10, Favored Enemy)
- Climb 0 (+8, Dungeon Specialist)
Skill tricks: Listen to This, See the Unseen. The former works surprisingly well with your Mimicry ability (you can reproduce what you heard in its original voice, leading to all kinds of unusual uses for the skill trick, especially against maxed-out favored enemies (Bluff); the Voice of the City ability may even let you repeat orders you’ve heard before in languages other than your own) and the latter is devastatingly good with Woodland Archer and/or Blind-Fight (anything you continually attack basically is as good as visible to you).
Overall Strengths: Very capable archer even before you factor in Skirmish. Amazing basic defenses, especially after Skirmish triggers (I was able to see AC 45 and 21/29(evasion)/18 saves without any real effort). Skirmish triggers when it isn’t your turn, along with a hilariously good ability to move without spending actions to do so (and with all the benefits a 5’ step brings over normal movement, i.e. no AoOs). Capable party support options in terms of skill list, dungeon-crawling class features, maneuvers (White Raven Tactics, Bolstering Voice, Covering Strike) and Distracting Attack (very useful if you have sneak attackers on board). Nearly the full range of Swift Hunter benefits, along with nearly full base attack. A collection of unusual mechanics apparently unique to the build makes it refreshing to play – imagine switching on Enlarge or Thicket to avoid the enemy, rather than make them not avoid you! (Also, you’re also able to engage in this movement while flat-footed, so if you’re ambushed, you can quickly move for cover or an ideal return-fire angle before even rolling initiative. Thank you, Combat Reflexes.)
Basically, this is a good cross between a ranged warrior-type and a harrier rogue, and it does that job damn well. By straddling those roles without compromising too much from either one, and keeping an array of party support effects in the hole, Flip the Bird fits well into many different parties. From the DM’s side of the table, this can cause some serious table-flipping frustration for experienced players – the more they rely on attacks of opportunity, the more distinctive Flip the Bird becomes as an enemy. Give him proper melee support and watch them weep. (If you’re showing off, have him start in melee with Thicket (and possibly Enlarge) active. His ability to slip away from that unscathed is practically mind-boggling, especially against chargers.)
Overall Weaknesses:You know the mantra, so say it with me now: will save. Resistance items, Crystal Masks of Mindarmor, and similar are good calls. On top of that, he shares a weakness with the Gnowhere Gnome in that any savvy enemy will respond to this shuffling by using AoEs. (We suggest a Ring of Evasion; unlike the Gnome you’re rocking a serious Reflex save, but also unlike the Gnome, you lack Concentration for the cheap Diamond Mind rings.) Lots of competition for your swift action and crusader recovery makes it difficult to employ all of your stunts with reasonable frequency. Long fights do not work out in your favor, since Covering Strike only works once on a given foe (although that’s usually long enough for you to refresh maneuvers, and if it expires that’s actually freeing up your swift). Finally, your HP are a bit on the low side, although you’ll be maddeningly hard to hit if you’re making regular use of Defensive Rebuke or Thicket.
Variants: There’s two discussed above: Swapping Martial Stance for Robilar’s Gambit (shifts you more to Evasion Tank territory – you’ll have to rely on conventional defense to protect against the first attack, but you still get your shuffling, in melee or at range) or switching to Strongheart Halfling (dramatically alters the feat timing by unlocking Point Blank Shot earlier, slightly improves ranged accuracy and your Hide skill, dramatically weakens you if you’re dogpiled by, say, teleporting Lockdown builds, and drops Great Ally and Mimicry). Both are very plausible tweaks, although they do detract a bit from the theme by respectively cutting back on your shuffling and removing your feathers.
Slightly more involved – at least on the skill front – is dropping the collection of variants from Cityscape and Dungeonscape. They’re completely optional. This most dramatically drops your innate Climb speed early on and makes Disable Device a lot harder to max out without cross-classing, but in exchange it significantly improves your tracking ability and Survival skill, and it cuts down on the number of substitutions (which makes it easier to sell to DMs).
Finally, I mentioned the build benefits significantly from flaws (or bonus feat races if you decide to drop that angle). The main reasons why involve standalone feats that probably key off your Dexterity. These get crowded out of the build due to all ranged feats requiring Point Blank Shot, even if they don’t use that ability. Here, I’m looking mostly at Tactile Trapsmith, which works out to a fat +11 to two of your critical skills (hello, +35 trapscout skills! That’s good enough to stand a decent chance against the Uncanny Trapsmith’s work!) and helps foil the evil DM trick of magically invisible traps (er, that is, it helps cover for both Kenku and Halfling lack of darkvision while trapscouting in the dark. Not wanting to give DMs any ideas or anything.).
…As a minor aside, if you have truly every source available to you, the silliest (as in, face-palming silliest) purchase you can make is the Arms & Equipment Guide’s Sparring Dummy of the Master. Clearly intended for monks (yay, we hit another base!), it changes all 5’ steps into 10’ steps. This gives the Robilar’s variant access to Press-the-Advantage-level movement, and makes the Press the Advantage version downright ridiculous. An average round of combat might put enough distance between you and the main fight to start busting out serious Spot penalties. The item was never reprinted for 3.5 and is probably undercosted for its benefit, but it is from an official Wizards source. If you get it, go ahead and use it to Flip the Bird at whoever designed it.
There you have it. This is an alternate take on the ranged Tome of Battle approach, and I think the first one to exploit Evasive Reflexes in this fashion - you get a damn fine archer with a respectable skill loadout and damage capacity, combined with some rather impressive and (to my knowledge) novel mobility techniques. The degree to which this is frustrating depends on the size of the enemy forces as well as how technical they are with AoOs - use it against a team of experienced players with melee characters, and it'll be an evening to remember.
Next up: ...Well, last week, [DH] Eat Sleep Gank won, but I didn't have the writeup ready on time due to unforeseen problems (also why this is delayed). So, in exchange, Eat Sleep Gank goes up next week.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL - I'll also include one of [RT] Edge of the Light, [AR] Slash and Burn, or [TS/AR/RT] Something Completely Different.... Vote for one of these below - and leave your comments on Flip the Bird!